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About Psychoanalysis


What is psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis is a therapy based on the observation that individuals are often unaware of many of the factors that determine their emotions and behavior. These unconscious factors may create unhappiness, sometimes in the form of recognizable symptoms and at other times as troubling personality traits, difficulties in work or in love relationships, or disturbances in mood and self-esteem. Because these forces are unconscious, the advice of friends and family, the reading of self-help books, or even the most determined efforts of will, often fail to provide relief.

Psychoanalytic treatment demonstrates how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of behavior, traces them back to their historical origins, shows how they have changed and developed over time, and helps the individual to deal better with the realities of life.

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Will a course of psychoanalysis help me?

Because analysis is a highly individualized treatment, people who wish to know if they would benefit from it should seek consultation with an experienced psychoanalyst.

The person best able to undergo psychoanalysis is someone who, no matter how incapacitated at the time, is basically, or potentially, a sturdy individual. This person may have already achieved important satisfactions - but is nonetheless significantly impaired by long-standing symptoms: depression or anxiety, sexual incapacities, or physical symptoms without any demonstrable underlying physical cause.

Some people come to analysis because of repeated failures in work or in relationships, brought about not by chance but by self- destructive patterns of behavior. Others need analysis because the way they are - their character - substantially limits their choices and their pleasures. Others seek analysis definitively to resolve psychological problems that were only temporarily or partially resolved by other approaches.

Whatever the problem - and each is different - that a person brings to the analyst, it can be properly understood only within the context of that person's strengths and life situation. A comprehensive evaluation, conducted by a trained psychoanalyst, is an excellent way to determine if you will benefit from psychoanalysis.

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Is psychoanalysis appropriate for children?

Some psychoanalysts specialize in the analysis of children. Child psychoanalysis - an offshoot of adult psychoanalysis - shares with it a common theoretical framework for understanding psychological life, while also using additional techniques and measures to deal with the special capacities and vulnerabilities of children. For instance, the young patient is helped to reveal his or her inner feelings and worries not only through words, but also through drawings and fantasy play. In the treatment of all but late adolescents, parents are usually consulted to round out the picture of the child's life. The goal of child and adolescent analysis is the removal of symptoms and of the psychological blocks that interfere with normal development.

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What will undergoing analysis involve for me, or my child?

Analysis is a partnership between patient and analyst, in the course of which the patient becomes aware of the underlying sources of his or her difficulties not simply intellectually, but emotionally - by re-experiencing them with the analyst. Typically, the patient comes four or five times a week, lies on a couch, and attempts to say everything that comes to mind. This situation, called 'the analytic setting', permits the emergence of aspects of the mind not accessible to other methods of observation.

As the patient speaks, hints of the unconscious sources of current difficulties gradually begin to appear - in certain repetitive patterns of behavior, in the subjects that the patient finds hard to talk about, in the ways the patient relates to the analyst.

The analyst helps elucidate these for the patient, who refines, corrects, rejects, and adds further thoughts and feelings. During the months or years that an analysis takes place, the patient wrestles with these insights, going over them again and again with the analyst and experiencing them in daily life, in fantasies, and in dreams. Patient and analyst join in efforts not only to modify life patterns and remove incapacitating symptoms, but also to expand the freedom to work and to love. Eventually the patient's life - his or her behavior, relationships, sense of self - changes in deep and abiding ways.

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What qualifications and experience will my analyst have?

We recommend that you work with an analyst who is a member of the IPA. IPA members are graduates of IPA-accredited training programs and have fulfilled the rigorous educational and practice requirements set by the IPA for qualification to practice psychoanalysis. IPA standards include extensive coursework, years of supervised clinical practice, and completion of a full personal psychoanalysis. As a member of the IPA, your psychoanalyst is connected to a tradition of training, treatment, scholarship, and research that meets exacting standards recognized around the world.

What code of ethics do IPA analysts operate under?

As a member of an IPA component society and the IPA itself, your analyst adheres to a strict codes of ethics at both the national and international level. To see this code click here. Your analyst may also be a member of another health discipline, professional body or educational institution as well as being qualified to practice psychoanalysis.

Who is a psychoanalyst?

All members of the IPA are psychoanalysts. However, legislation regarding who may call himself or herself a "psychoanalyst" varies from country to country and sometimes between regions within a country. In some places: anyone, even an untrained person, may use the title. It is therefore important to know the practitioner's credentials before beginning treatment.

Graduate psychoanalysts trained under the auspices of the IPA have had very rigorous and extensive clinical education. Candidates accepted for training at an accredited psychoanalytic institute must meet high ethical, psychological, and professional standards. Most candidates are psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers who have completed a clinical training in their respective professions. A small number of talented candidates are also admitted to psychoanalytic training from other disciplines. These candidates complete coursework and clinical experience requirements in addition to standard psychoanalytic training as part of their preparation for practice.

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How can I find out if an analyst is a Member of the IPA or not?

Please contact NAPsaC at Please be sure to include the full name of the analyst. A NAPsaC representative will provide you with the information you need.

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How does psychoanalysis differ from other mental-health therapies?

Here are some characteristics that help differentiate this treatment from other forms of psychotherapy:

  • Psychoanalysis is not short-term treatment but its results are often lasting with positive effects that are usually realized in the years following the completion of treatment.
  • Patients often use the couch, which fosters thinking, emotional experience, and self-reflection and allows for privacy and connection in equal measure.
  • It is the power of self-understanding in the context of a facilitating therapeutic relationship that allows psychoanalysis to be effective.
  • Patients are encouraged to attend frequent sessions during the work week. This allows for continuity and intensity of focus and is not a measure of how severe the problem. Psychoanalysts are specifically trained to work in this intensive, dedicated manner in a close partnership with each patient. A wealth of experience and research has confirmed that this is the best way to help patients evolve and change in meaningful ways.


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To whom should I complain about or comment on the treatment my analyst is giving me?

If you have a complaint about or would like to comment on the treatment you or your child has been receiving from your IPA analyst, you should first contact the IPA Constituent Organization of which your analyst is a Member. If you do not know the IPA Constituent Organization of your analyst, NAPsaC can provide you with the information you need. Just e-mail NAPsaC at

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How much will a course of psychoanalysis cost?

The IPA does not set fee levels and psychoanalysts' fees vary greatly. For those who cannot afford private fees, low-cost treatment is available through some IPA training institutes. Psychoanalysts in training - physicians, psychologists, or social workers who are already experienced therapists - will often adjust their fees to the financial needs of the patient. In addition, because of their commitment to analysis and to community service, many graduate analysts also make an effort to treat patients at reduced rates.

To find out if there is an IPA training institute near you, contact NAPsaC at

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Thanks to the American Psychoanalytic Association ( for the use of "Facts about APsaA and Psychoanalysis" as a model for the FAQs. 'How did the IPA begin?' is adapted from an article by William H. Gillespie.